Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The Eagle on May 11, 1985.
You know that Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson isn’t kidding about his club being less than overpowering on offense when you realize that the leading home-run hitter on the team is a player they call “Stub.”
As a rule, home-run hitters are not called Stub. They are called the Cannon, or Kong, or Hammerin’ Hank, or the Sultan of Swat.
Nevertheless, a guy named Stub is leading the Shockers in homers.
Which even surprises Mark “Stub” Standiford.
“I really didn’t expect that,” said the freshman second baseman.
And small wonder. As a senior at Wichita North High last year, Standiford hit a total of one home run.
The most home runs he ever hit in a single season at North was three.
“They were few and far between,” he said of his high school homers. “I really don’t remember them.”
He has 12 so far this year, so they should be easier to remember.
Standiford was a fine all-around athlete at North, but, although plenty of jucos wanted him, he was not swamped with big-time college offers.
There was a problem with his size. He didn’t have any and he still doesn’t. Colleges are notorious for padding statistics on the height and weight of their athletes, and WSU has shamelessly padded Standiford’s height up to 5-foot-7.
Even Standiford admitted that that’s “stretching it a little bit,” which is what he’d have to do to reach 5-7.
He is listed at 160 pounds, and that’s after lifting weights all year.
Standiford credits the weights, as well as an off-season hitting program and hitting instruction from Stephenson, for his offensive production. Besides the homers, he’s hitting .340 and is fourth on the team in RBIs.
“I always thought I could hit home runs, it was just a matter of doing it,” he said. “I knew it was just a matter of getting stronger as I got older.”
If not bigger.
Stephenson said he has not been surprised by Standiford’s long-ball power.
“Anybody who has great quickness with the hands and natural strength has the ability to do that,” Stephenson said. “The greatest home-run hitter in the game was not a big man. Hank Aaron was 5-10, 175 pounds most of his career, maybe even 170 pounds. Jimmy Wynn maybe weighed 150 pounds. Joe Morgan hit the ball pretty good for a little guy.
“They were certainly few and far between, but what they all possessed was great natural strength for their size, and great quickness with their hands.”
So maybe the most surprising thing about Standiford is not his hitting, but his fielding. He was a catcher in high school. He never played second base until the summer before he came to WSU.
“It took me quite awhile to get adjusted to it,” Standiford said. “I still am. I learn new things every day.”
“Anybody who saw him play last fall marvels at the improvement,” said Stephenson. “He struggled a great deal. He showed great promise, but I don’t think anybody on this club thought he could start. I don’t think even he dreamed he could start.
“But he has great natural strength for a little man, great quickness with his hands, a good sound mind, and he’s a hard worker. A less determined person probably would’ve given up long ago on making the switch.”
Standiford knew he had to make the switch to survive. “I really didn’t have much future as a catcher, being as small as I am,” he said.
“He can play competitively at second base in a top Division I program,” said Stephenson. “As a catcher he couldn’t do it. He’s not that strong. Physically it would wear him out.”
Standiford hurt his wrist last weekend and missed six games for the Shockers, but he is expected to be ready for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament that starts today at WSU’s Eck Field.
He didn’t like sitting out, because he never had before. “I hardly ever got hurt in high school, “ he said.
But then, it’s been a year full of new experiences for Standiford.